Ultralight Hiking in Michigan's Dunes
By Steve Gillman
I was hiking in Michigan, in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National
Lakeshore park. It was March, so when I made it through the woods
and over the dunes, I would have miles of beach to myself. It
was just an over-nighter, a chance to test some new ultralight
backpacking equipment. I went up and down the hills quickly,
enjoying the cold air.
On my first break, halfway through the forest, I cooked noodles.
The cheap 3-ounce pot was from Walmart or the dollar store, and
it worked fine. From the catalog descriptions, the expensive
titanium pots all seem to be heavier, so I was happy with this
discovery. They probably make the expensive ones too thick and
with too many gadgets.
I did have to use a small twig-fire when my homemade alcohol
stove didn't provide enough heat. I later learned that isopropyl
alcohol doesn't burn as hot as the alcohol used as gas additive.
The twigs worked okay though.
Hiking on the Beach
After lunch, I hiked to Lake Michigan and sat up on a large
sand dune. I watched the waves push ice up onto the empty beach,
while I listened to the coyotes howling. I walked down to the
water and looked for petoskey stones, without luck. Then the
snow began. Hiking in Michigan in March has its risks-and its
I was hiking in running shoes, and it would be well below
freezing that night. In Northern Michigan, March is definitely
part of winter. My feet stayed warm while I was hiking, but I
hadn't counted on them getting wet. Fortunately I had a pair
of warm, dry socks for sleeping.
It was the first time I had used my GoLite Breeze backpack,
which weighed only 13 ounces. My pack weight was only about nine
pounds total, and that only because I threw in some canned food.
I was going light, but I knew the forest here, and I knew my
My sleeping bag was a 17-ounce Western HiLite. It was
the first time I would use it when the temperature was below
freezing (It hit 25 degrees Fahrenheit that night). Fortunately,
it wasn't too windy.
At the edge of the forest, behind the dunes, I set up my small
tarp. I piled up pine needles and dead bracken ferns under it.
This made a warm mattress, and I slept well. My one-pound sleeping
bag had kept me warmer than my three-pounder used to.
In the morning there was only a dusting of snow. I poured
a little alcohol in the cut-off bottom of a Pepsi can (my 1/2-ounce
stove) and heated up some tea. I ate some crackers and hit the
Later that day I ended my trip with a hike to the village
of Empire, six or seven miles away. I was satisfied with what
I had learned. Only my cheap tarp (and cheap stove fuel) had
disappointed me. It was too small, mostly.
After hiking in Michigan for years, I know it well. So I know
where to look for dead grass and bracken ferns, for example,
which can be used to make a warm mattress in a few minutes. Knowledge,
obviously, can be as helpful as expensive gear.
Michigan Backpacking - Three
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